How I Make a Living as a Writer (and You Can, Too)
When I first wrote a novel in 1991, I remember walking down the road and seeing a pretty girl and thinking, "She might like me now."
This post originally appeared on The Altucher Confidential.
I know that a lot of what I write seems to involve whether or not women like me. But that's what I think about. I want people to like me. And when I was younger, it was more important that women like me than that men like me.
I also wanted money. I didn't want to work for a boss. That scary feeling of being called into the boss's office after you know you did something that was "wrong." I put it in quotes because what does it matter now? What did it even matter then? How could you, my sweet baby, ever do something wrong? (Note: that's the sentence I would whisper to myself after being summoned to the boss's office.)
"Don't you have any pride in your work?"
"Clean out your desk today."
"Did you steal all of the paper?"
"Why did the office cleaning lady find 20 moldy sandwiches in your drawer?"
"Why didn't you test the software before it went to the client?"
Whatever. It's because I was busy and no, I didn't have pride in my work. I was 22 years old and looking at women and trying to publish a novel on the side so I didn't have to work anymore. And I have no comment about the sandwiches. It took many years before I made any money as a writer. And what works then is different now. Right now it's easier than ever. But the rules changed every three or four years and they will change again. Just like they change with everything in life.
By the way, that first novel, and the four that came after it, and the 50 short stories that came after it, never got published. I used to think I needed to publish something before I could feel good about myself, before I could call myself a "writer," before I could have a girlfriend, before I could get a real job, before I could move to NYC. What a pathetic weight on my shoulder to think I needed something controlled by just a handful of people. Those weights stayed on my back for years.
When you have weights on you, you can't move. The weights are only mental. Go ahead. Move.
You Are a Writer
If you sit down at a blank screen every day and simply do nothing then you are a writer
Read a Ton of Stuff
I try to read
Someone wrote in a comment to someone else's post a few weeks ag What if James Altucher had to take care of two kids in the morning? Yes, it's true. Kids suck. But sometimes I do have to do that. Plus I have other responsibilities. So I wake up at 4am and begin reading and writing. Or earlier. Whatever it takes.
Get Rid of Prejudice
Agents, publishers, and editors at the traditional companies are mostly bullshit. They have no clue what they are doing. For the most part they pick sucky writers whose books flash for a week or so and then disappear forever. And they take a year to publish your book after they accept your book. This is not 100% true. But try to gauge the entrepreneurship of the people you are dealing with. You need people as creative as you. It needs to be a team and not a machine.
You can traditionally publish, but make sure you are doing it with creative entrepreneurs and not people stuck in the machine. If you think you need a mainstream publisher for reasons of ego or prejudice then you are guaranteed to publish a worst-seller instead of a bestseller.
The second you start to think something, anything, is IMPORTANT, then your ego will suffer and your work will suffer. If you are an artist, get your art in the hands of people. That's your only job. Destroy every gatekeeper.
Self-Publishing Is Not E-Books
If you self-publish, you can make an e-book, you can make a print-on-demand book through Createspace, you can make an Audio book through Audible, you can make a hardcover, you can even make a t-shirt with your book on it. I have over 20 t-shirts with the entire 67,000 words of "Choose Yourself!" printed on it. My kids have several shirts. [My wife] Claudia does. Nobody is allowed to walk into this house without wearing that t-shirt.
Do what you want. Self-publishing
Bookstores Are Evil
My kids are sad that Borders is dying and that Barnes & Noble is next. Keep your mouths shut, kids! I get it. I love bookstores also. It's like a work of art to see all of those covers, to thumb through the pages, to grab a pile of books and a coffee and start seeing what books you want to buy.
But don't forget just 20 years ago everyone said Barnes & Noble was evil because they were killing the independent bookstore. I have news for you: the indies were evil also. One guy picking out 500 of his favorite books and no others.
Now a B&N might have 10,000 books but Amazon has 20 million books. Why would you ever give someone the choice to limit you. I hope all bookstores die and that Amazon is the only one left standing. Because then every author has a chance and not just the ones the B&N gatekeeper decides on.
And I'll tell you how I am doing my role: I pick out the books I might buy in a Barnes & Noble. I take them to the coffee shop in the store. I buy my coffee and start thumbing through the books. Then I buy the books right there and then in the store. On my Kindle. Screw you, Barnes & Noble.
Platform Is Shit
I agree it's important to have some internet presence. You need to sell your first 1,000 books once you publish and the internet is a good way to do it. But your free audience is not the way to do it. They read your blog for free. They don't even want to fork over 99 cents to buy your book.
I will give you an example: on my last book
Now my book has sold over 100,000 copies and I'm getting ready to send out another email bundle to another list. This will be infinitely more valuable than any blog, podcast, marketing, whatever I use to promote my book on the internet.
I love the audience for my blog and these posts. I feel it's one of the few times I've seen a community of genuine good people trying to improve. I don't write here to sell books but to build community and make friends. Most of the internet is "outrage porn" and I'm glad we've avoided that.
That said, I am not an expert on marketing. Ryan Holiday, who is an expert on book marketing (and also told me the term "outrage porn" yesterday), helped me with my book and was an invaluable resource and to this day still is. Ryan and Tucker Max and Nils Parker are building a company which will revolutionize this industry. One rule I have is I am loyal for life to anyone who helps me make money and Ryan definitely helped me.
This seems opposite of what I said above. But blogging is not such a bad idea. How come? Because it makes you write every day. And it also is fun to build friends and community around your blog. But if you want to blog, don't just register a domain name and start blogging. You won't get any traffic.
I encourage people to find online communities that they like and feel like participating in and start blogging
Practice answering questions there. See what gets upvoted and what doesn't. Improve your skills. See if you enjoy it. Then start taking some of your answers and making them into a blog. Then start guest posting on other sites. You're not trying to build an audience for your blog. You're trying to build an audience for YOU, PERIOD. There's no money in ads, blah. You have to be more creative than ever how you build an audience. The best Internet marketing I did was when I did a reddit AMA (which Ryan, above, set up).
Look at someone like EL James, who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey. I don't even think she had a blog. She was posting on fan fiction sites for Twilight. And millionaire teenage bestseller, Amanda Hocking, was posting in the comments section of JA Konrath's site and building community that way.
There's a thousand ways to build community and practice writing on the Internet. Blog is one of them but there are many others. My #1 suggestion: first practice on Quora (cc Marc Bodnick) If you go there, follow me and say "Hi!".
Write Every Day
I had a friend who wanted to be a painter. "When I move to Paris I'll finally be able to paint," she said. She never moved to Paris. Now she's a programmer and hates her job. I have another friend who has been working for 30 years on one novel. She keeps hating it and rewriting it. She can't get a publisher interested. She only writes when she's inspired. She needs writing groups to push her along.
I get it. I get writer's block also. But writing is a muscle
It doesn't matter if you write good stuff or bad stuff every day. Yesterday, for fun, I wrote about how much I enjoyed bowel movements. Will I publish that? I hope not! It was awful! But I wrote because that's what I wrote yesterday. 1500 words about bowel movements. Mission accomplished.
Do the math: if you just write 1,000 words a day that are publishable then you have a book every two months. 1,000 words a day is not easy. But it's not hard either. This post is 1,800 words so far and I started 20 minutes ago. I'll spend many more hours rewriting it than writing, it but once you start exercising the writing muscle (start with 200 words a day, then 300, etc.) you will get up to 1,000.
Rewrite Every Day
See above. I feel better about the words I take out then the words I write. First you have a block of stone, then you make a sculpture, then you chisel and fine tune until you have a work of art. Art is born from the rewrite, not from the typewrite.
With Choose Yourself! I kept rewriting obsessively. One time the book was all finished and sent to editors, designers, etc. Then I did the audio version. KABLAMO! Any paragraph that made me feel like, "Ugh, I'm too bored to read this out loud," I noted. Then I went back home and rewrote the whole book again. And the audio version veered so much from the book it was completely unabridged. Everyone hated me. But I liked the final result much beter. Read your work out loud and cut out anything that makes you lag.
Can I Make Money Writing Articles?
No. You used to be able to make a living writing articles. Just a few years ago. In 2005 I made a good living writing about 3-4 articles a day for different publications while I was running my fund and before I started and sold Stockpickr. But those days are over. People just don't pay for content. And there are too many writers. It's a supply and demand thing.
If you expect to make a living from articles or blogs then figure out how to do one of three things:
- Blog for free, but then lead people to a subscription information product. Like "stock picks" or "dating" or whatever you think you're an expert at and nobody else is.
- Get speaking gigs. This is hard.
- Do consulting or coaching. This is possible.
I've never been that great at any of the three above. Well, maybe #3 but only recently. So this leaves us with only one thing. ONE THING works.
Write a Lot of Books
If you can write one book
I was at a dinner recently of a bunch of self-published Amazon authors who were making a living at it. Every single one of them had more than ten books written and published in the prior year or so. Theresa Ragan, as an example, has 13 or 14 books written (thriller and romance) in the past two or three years. Hugh Howey, known for his Wool series, has written around 28 books in the past few years. I lost count while counting them. He never stops. I highly recommend his SAND series which just came out.
At the dinner there was one woman who had written over 100 books. If she averages $100 a book a month for the rest of her life it's not so bad. Choose Yourself! was my 11th or 12th published book. I have four more books sitting here ready to go. Throughout history, the best books have often been written in a short amount of time. Bukowski's Post Office and Jack Kerouac's On the Road were both written in three weeks. Always remember the key rule: an overnight success takes at least five years of solid work (as defined in my prior post "The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Reinventing Yourself").
I left out important things: how do you market books, how do you make art, how do you build discipline, what do you write about, and so on. There's answers for all of those. The most important thing for me: writing without fear. Writing without judgment. Writing without anger. Making writing fun. Writing right now.
Writing is about freedom and not money. I want to write to you something fun and useful. And I want you to read it.
How to Write for a Living | The Altucher Confidential
James Altucher has written nine published books and one comic book. He's created a web series for HBO and is working on one right now for PBS. He's built 20 companies and failed at 17 of them. He speaks regularly about misery at conferences that can't seem to get enough of it. He's written for Yahoo, AOL, the Wall St Journal, The Financial Times, The Huffington Post, the Elephant Journal, and others. His newest book is titled "Choose Yourself ." He lives by a river. You can follow James on Twitter at@jaltucher.
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